Ananias and Sapphira – An Upsetting Story
The story told in Acts 5 about Ananias and Sapphira has never been one of my favorites. I’ll bet it hasn’t been one of yours’ either? Am I right? I would find myself feeling upset and confused every time I would read this Bible story. And it frightened the early Christian church too, so Scripture tells us. Why would God deal so harshly with this couple when they messed up a bit? Haven’t we all messed up at times? Would God strike us down too?
We don’t know much about Ananias and Sapphira. The name ‘Sapphira’ means ‘beautiful’ in Aramaic. Perhaps she was beautiful. This Christian couple may have been part of that group of believers who waited in the upper room for the Holy Spirit to come at Pentecost. Or they may have become believers and joined the church a few days or weeks after that. But Ananias and Sapphira were both members of that very first church in Jerusalem - our spiritual ancestors.
We are told several things about Ananias’ and Sapphiras’ church. For one, at Pentecost the Holy Spirit had fallen on each believer in a powerful way and now the church group was experiencing miracles and healings in their gatherings. And also many of these new believers in their enthusiasm had sold their homes and land and were giving all their money to the group so that everything could be shared in common. “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)
It seemed that Ananias and Sapphira loved the Lord and wanted to fit right in with the other new Christians. And since most of their friends were selling their homes and giving the proceeds to the group, Ananias and Sapphira felt pressured to do the same, even though they may have had some reservations. Shouldn’t they join in and appear to go along with the crowd?
Scripture says that Ananias and Sapphira went ahead and sold their home even though their church group didn’t require that of them. And then they decided to keep part of the money from the sale and give part of it to the church group. Nothing wrong with that either. But if they let the other church members believe that they had given all of the money from the sale to the church instead of just part of it; they might make a better impression! They wanted to look good and keep up with the other church members who were giving everything. What could be wrong with that?
So Ananias talked it over with Sapphira and the two agreed together to tell a little white lie to their church leaders. They would tell Peter that they were giving all of the money from their sale and Peter and the others would be impressed with their generosity! Next day Ananias walked in and gave the money to Peter saying that he was giving the church the full amount of money from the sale of the home and wasn’t he a nice guy? Peter, being full of the Holy Spirit, immediately knew that Ananias was lying! He didn’t need to give all of the money to the church, Peter insisted, but he should never lie to the Holy Spirit. Peter spoke out angrily to Ananias: “…Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:4b) Ananias was so shocked at Peters’ words that he fell to the ground at Peter’s feet and died instantly.
Three hours later Sapphira came by not knowing that her husband had died. She walked up and told Peter the same little lie that Ananias had told, insisting that they were giving the church all of the money from the sale and even quoting a false amount. And then Peter told her what he had told her husband: “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out too.” (Acts 5:9) Sapphira also dropped dead at Peter’s feet and she was buried next to her husband. This sad story ends with a report that great fear came upon everyone in the church when they heard about what had happened to Ananias and Sapphira. (Acts 5:11)
We are left with questions. Why did Ananias and Sapphira die instantly when they lied in church when I am sure others have lied in church and haven’t been struck down in such a fashion? What is going on here? Let’s dig a little deeper.
Let’s remember that, when Ananias and Sapphira told their lie, the Holy Spirit had just recently fallen on the church with visible signs like wind and fire and power. At one prayer meeting the Holy Spirit had shaken the meeting room. Healings and miracles were happening every day through the Spirit. And the apostle Peter was so filled with Holy Spirit power that thousands believed in Jesus when he preached and throngs brought their sick out in the streets hoping that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them and make them well! Acts 5:16 states: “Multitudes gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were ALL healed.”
I dare say that none of us today have been part of a church quite like that early church, where Gods’ presence through the Holy Spirit could be seen and felt and experienced so powerfully. Back then every single person Peter touched was healed through the Holy Spirit. Ananias and Sapphira had been there for the healings and the miracles. They had experienced God’s power there with them and seen and felt God’s holy presence residing in Peter and in the church. When Gods’ presence resides so powerfully with His people, they should be reverent in His presence. So when Ananias and Sapphira walked in and casually lied to the Holy Spirit, present there in full power, where was their reverence for God?
We read another story in the Old Testament that is similar to the story of Ananias and Sapphira. In Leviticus 9 and 10 we read about the very beginnings of Israel’s priestly ministry. God had given Moses instructions of how the priests were to sacrifice the animals on the altar for the sins of the people. And Aaron and his four sons had been chosen to be the Israel’s’ first priests. All of the Jewish people gathered around to worship God and after Aaron and his sons had made the sacrifices, Aaron blessed the people. Then the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people and fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering on the altar. And when the people saw Gods’ glory in their midst they all shouted and fell down on their faces. (Leviticus 9:23-24)
It was a holy moment. Gods’ presence and glory had come to be there with the people. All of the people were deeply moved and in reverence to God bowed and fell to the ground. But while the people were on their faces in worship, two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu decided to show off and offered ‘profane’ fire right in front of the visible presence of Gods’ glory! Let’s listen to what happens next. “Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.” (Lev.10:1-2)
These sons of Aaron didn’t seem to respect or fear the presence and glory of the living God. As priests they had been instructed as to how to come into the holy presence of God, but they decided to do their own thing instead! Where was their fear- their reverence for God? After these young men died while everyone was looking on, Moses explained to the stunned Aaron why his two sons had been struck down. “And Moses said to Aaron. ‘This is what the Lord spoke, saying:’ ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy. And before all the people I must be glorified.’” (Leviticus 10:3)
The power and glory of God was physically present in both of these stories from the Bible. Ananias and Sapphira thought nothing of lying when the Holy Spirit was present in great power and Nadab and Abihu played games in front of Gods’ fiery glory. These four people casually did their thing before Gods’ presence and didn’t regard Him as holy. They paraded their sin right in front of a holy God. Most of us have felt Gods’ presence and we know that He is with us. But probably none of us have been in circumstances like these where the glory and power of God could be seen and experienced physically. And if we ever were in the presence of Gods’ glory, I doubt if we would make the same mistake and not honor Him!
Scripture tells us that after we die we will stand in front of the living God in all His glory. God is holy and we will not be acceptable in His presence unless we are holy. We aren’t good enough on our own and in our sin and doing our own thing. We won’t be able to tell our little white lies there or bring in profane fire. We will need to be ready! Heaven is a sinless place and we can not enter it and hang on to our sin. But the God who is holy and pure is also a God who loves us and brings us salvation. He has provided a Way for us to be covered and come to Him, a Way to take away our sin, and a way to be ready. And that Way is Jesus. (Acts 4:10-12) Let’s accept Gods’ gift of Jesus now so that when it’s our time to go we will be prepared to meet our Maker.